Vanuatu law student chases NRL dream
Ever since Cyclone Pam devastated the Pacific Nation of Vanuatu in March, Julian Wells has found it difficult to get his fix of rugby league.
The local competition that had just a handful of teams last year has been unable to get underway in 2015 and difficulties with cable television because of ongoing infrastructure repairs have made watching the NRL sporadic at best.
But like a growing number of young men in Vanuatu, Wells has a dream to play in the NRL and he has taken his first significant step by applying to become part of the inaugural NRL Rookie program to be featured on Channel Nine.
The video Wells submitted is one of dozens already being featured on the NRL Rookie website and shows his work in the weights room and on one of Vanuatu's football fields, its unkempt grass and dilapidated goalposts a far cry from the pristine surroundings enjoyed by NRL clubs.
Currently studying Law at The University of South Pacific in Port Vila, the 20-year-old said he would happily leave the books behind in order to chase his dream of playing in the NRL.
"In 2012 when Vanuatu played its first Test match against Greece, I was one of the people in the grandstand and that's when I knew I wanted to play rugby league," said Wells, who supports the Broncos and Rabbitohs.
"For me, it would mean everything to me. I give everything to my footy. Throughout a typical day it's pretty much all footy orientated and even though there are not a lot of opportunities here I do what I can just to keep my dream alive.
"It would mean everything for me, this opportunity, and I also realise that it would open up the eyes of footy players here for rugby union and rugby league, that we can make it and that if opportunities come to take it.
"This year, since the cyclone, the cyclone has pretty much stopped everything. It's postponed the season for a month now and hopefully we should start at the end of May but nothing has happened yet.
"We lost the roof off our house in the cyclone but we were one of the lucky ones."
Coming from a strong rugby union family, Wells was first introduced to rugby league through a friend from Tonga as he and his family spent three years living in the Philippines.
Having played predominantly in the halves in his junior rugby days, Wells has found a home at hooker in rugby league, displaying unerring passing accuracy in his video submission to become the first NRL Rookie.
"I was five-eighth and a second five-eighth and I also played outside backs but growing up when I was little I was actually a forward. Then when everyone grew bigger than me I had to switch positions," Wells said of his days playing rugby.
"I see myself playing primarily at halfback or five-eighth but I have played most of my rugby league at hooker and that's where I feel most comfortable right now. But I do see myself in the future playing as a halfback or five-eighth.
"Surprisingly my family has actually supported me in my journey in rugby league so far. My grandpa, we always watch rugby together and I will never bring rugby league up so he doesn't get angry or anything. He prefers to watch rugby.
"Rugby league's popularity is increasing exponentially in the last three years. Rugby union is still the most popular but I see rugby league dominating and even dominating soccer in years to come if there is more support for it in Vanuatu and more games and more exposure."
As for what he will bring to the NRL Rookie should he be selected, Wells said that he has a range of attributes perfectly suited to succeeding in the NRL.
"I have the speed, I have the footwork and I have the ball-playing skills," he said.
"Although I have all the skills I still can control the game and that's what I've been trying to do to mature as a playmaker, control the game. That's what I bring to a team... and I'm not shy in defence."